25 March 2009

Free Refills

So I haven't posted in a very long time, but this one sprang to mind this afternoon. I'm not sure why, but this particular story tends to be the most overlooked of my myriad Korea tales. Strange really because to my mind it's one of the most bizarre things I saw while I was in the country.

One point of culture one quickly becomes accustomed to in Korea (and China as well) are the differing approaches to children's toilet etiquette. In the West, we generally regard a child's habits the same we do an adults. That is to say, the child is afforded at least a modicum of privacy and the business is done behind closed doors. You've seen it in a shopping mall bathroom; the child walks into a stall, the parent follows, and the door is locked.
Not so in Asia. The outdoor world is a children's toilet. Trow are dropped regardless of location, and the streets are awash with kiddy piddle. I've narrowly avoided running down a miterating toddler as a rushing crowd parts to reveal him hovering over a sewer grate; I've witnessed fathers holding up their sons by the shoulders as the kid drizzles down a stream as if from a lime-clogged shower head; I've heard tell that in mainland China, diapers are not even purchased...
I'm sure you get the idea. So this particular incident transpires on an uneventful Saturday afternoon. Jessica had gone into Seoul for the afternoon while I stayed at home. We decided to meet on her way back and get some food. We ended up at a restaurant that served what is very probably the worst sushi I've ever been subjected to. Rotten to its very core. Two plates of soggy shrimp were left untouched on their beds of crunchy rice. We hop the bus back to our town. Midway through the journey and the bus is coming upon a McDonald's. While ordinarily this would not be the first choice for either of us, recent horrors had cast the Arches in a new light. We stopped in.
Perhaps I should set the scene a bit further. The highway from the metro station to our town was a two lane country affair. There were occasional strip malls, but there was otherwise not much in the way of civilization. Except for the great hulking McDonald's restaurant. Like most Korean buildings, it was thrown up over the course of two or three weeks and rose to dominate the landscape around it. Its grand opening warranted an appearance from the president of McDonald's (South Korea) who pronounced it the largest and greatest in all the land. At any given time, the behemoth stood at no more than 2% capacity. The evening Jessica and I wandered in was no exception. The eighteen staff members on duty quickly clicked their heels and stood at attention, as we were the only customers beside a table of high schoolers huddled in a corner.
We order our food and sit down. One other interesting point about this particular outlet is that the food is brought to you at your table and the soda comes in hard, recyclable plastic cups. The two of of us begin with our meal and, as it draws to its completion, a family enters and sits down next to us. Perhaps two hundred unoccupied chairs and dozens of empty tables, and Mom, Dad, Grandma and Junior decide to hover over us. Sure, no problem. Dad goes to order food and Junior, as Korean children in public do, runs up and down the aisles in a hyperactive fit. I decide to get some ice cream and so we remain neighbors a bit longer.
As the family dig into their meals, Junior comes up dancing and holding his crotch. He's quickly shooed away. A few minutes later he wanders back. Again, Mom and Dad are having none of it. They point him toward the restrooms, though at three years old he can't possibly be expected to take care of it himself.
He comes to the table a third time. Exasperated, Mom puts down her Big Mac and picks up an empty soda cup. In a single movement, Mom lets out a sigh, jerks down Junior's shorts, and sticks the soda cup at penis-level. Jessica and I abruptly end our conversation absolutely dumbfounded as Junior relieves himself right before our eyes. Mom sits there, disinterested, as Junior slowly but surely fills the cup with urine right there in the middle of the McDonald's dining room. He finishes, shorts are pulled back up, and Mom puts the soda cup right back on the table, picks up her Big Mac and resumes eating.
And there is sits in the middle of the table. The clear plastic cup, ice nearly melted and the yellow urine tinged a brown with the remnants of Coke. It sits there as the centerpiece for the remainder of the meal. Eventually Dad gets up and pours it out in the garbage and goes up to the counter for a refill. This latter event confounds me to this very day. He certainly must have thrown away the cup his son pissed in and carried a second one with him; it was this second one that was refilled. However, in my memory, I never remember seeing the second cup. At any rate, I never finished my ice cream.

No comments: